Remembering 2008, My Third Year Of Blogging

Rejection.  Depression.  Disappointment.  Anger.  Universal feelings that are unavoidable when your life hits a brick wall.
 
That’s how my 2008 began.  But thankfully, it’s not how it has ended.
 
In less than two months, The Writings Of Dennis Earl will be turning three.  After posting nearly 400 entries, the site has received close to 25000 hits altogether.  Last year around this time there were close to 14000 overall.  (There were a mere 3200 at the end of 2006.)  Despite not writing very much this year about the ongoing tragedy of Quebecor’s cruel mismanagement of its newspaper properties (particularly, Sun Media), page views are up slightly since 2007 (roughly 11000 compared to 10000), an encouraging bit of news in an otherwise gloomy period.  Still, there is much work to be done.  I want to be as prolific as I was at the start (more on that later) and I want to attract more visitors who, I hope, will become regular readers.
 
But back to the dark period.  For the first time in eight years, I had a job interview.  A branch of The Hamilton Public Library was looking for part-time help.  There was an in-house notice about it on the checkout desk in December 2007.  It was an announcement I had been waiting for for almost two years.  During that time, I would frequently ask certain staff members about possible openings.  I was told time and time again that something was going to come up soon but months and months would pass without any official word.  The moment I saw the notice, I asked for an application.  It was quickly filled out, attached to a resume and submitted for consideration.  By early January, an email was sent requesting my presence for an interview.
 
Imagine my surprise when an old high school classmate was competing for the same job.  I’d last seen her at Steel City Video in either 2005 or 2006.  When I told her about my Hamilton Spectator articles at the time, she expressed an interest in seeing them.  I didn’t see her again until the day of the interview.  As I was being summoned to go downstairs, we briefly exchanged greetings.  I noticed her before then but decided not to approach her.  I was totally focused on nailing this thing and didn’t want any distractions ruining my shot.
 
Being familiar with the two women who interviewed me for years, it went well.  The written portion (put these books in the correct order by following The Dewey Decimal System) was another story.  Although, in truth, it was a fairly breezy page to fill out (and I’m sure I did it perfectly), it took longer than it should have to complete it.  Being an obsessive worrier at times, I agonized over my answers until I finally realized the order was fine.  I kept obsessing after that until I finally calmed down.
 
Then came the call.  It was down to me and one other person. 
 
I didn’t get it.
 
Meanwhile, my friendship with my ex-girlfriend was faltering.  As noted previously on this site, I met a young woman in a chatroom in March 2007.  Long story short, we had a brief, turbulent online romance that lasted until early June that same year.  I was dumped just days before my 32nd birthday.  Anyway, after a few months of separation, she left a couple of very sweet messages in my Guestbook, the only ones that have ever been posted.  After the second one, I realized she really wanted to reconnect with me.  We exchanged long, tortured emails and agreed to be friends.
 
It was a terrible idea.  My bones ached with resentment and I was swimming in an endless sea of sadness.  I hated that she soon started dating someone else but I never said a word.  I had no right to.  Conversations creaked with awkwardness and needless delays.  She had switched from a desktop to a laptop and her Internet connection was horrible.  There would be numerous times where I would send her a message in real time and there would be no reply for 10 minutes.  Either she hadn’t received the message at all or her computer would freeze up and there was no way for her to respond.  By the time she did, she usually moved onto to a different thought altogether.  All the while, frustration and anger kept building.  It didn’t help that she had posted a sexy pic of herself with her giant tits hanging out of her shirt on her display window on MSN.  I wasn’t sure who it was at first (you couldn’t see her face) but she confirmed it was her.  When I asked her to send it to me, she refused.  She displayed another one that showed off her flat stomach (complete with a belly button piercing).  It was torture.
 
When we resumed online chatting in October last year, it did get sexual once which was nice.  (This was before she started that new relationship which ultimately didn’t last.)  But after that, any chance of mutual flirtation or full-on cybering was remote.  (She didn’t want to be "friends with benefits" online or off.)  I tried one last time on January 13th, her 19th birthday.  She was drunk as a skunk and wearing a nice dress, she told me.  We hadn’t spoken in a week.  I was reaching the end of my tether but still stubbornly and foolishly clinging to the idea that somehow, some way we would have another go at a romance in the near future.  When I brought up the idea of giving her "a birthday orgasm", she laughed in my face.  Twice.  Unfortunately, I wasn’t making a joke.  I really wanted to fool around.  In that moment, I realized I was wasting my time.  I wanted nothing to do with her anymore.  It was the last time we chatted.
 
A couple of weeks passed before I blocked her on MSN and on both my Hotmail accounts.   She was deleted from my address book and her emails were relocated to the trash bin.  Whenever I would go to my website, the first thing I would see were those goddamned messages she left in my Guestbook.  Seeing them depressed me every time.  Rather than remove the application from the site, I merely relocated it further down the page on the right side of the screen.  They’re easier to ignore now, although when I do see them it’s not so bad.  They were nice sentiments, after all.
 
On January 4th, nine days before that fateful, final chat session, I posted a poem about my feelings.  It’s a bit dated now.  I have no desire to rekindle what’s long been dead.  And I do accept the reality of everything that happened.  I did everything humanly possible to make her happy but it wasn’t enough.  After going back and forth with my anger and resentment throughout the year, I finally had a breakthrough recently.  I imagined having a conversation with her, telling her all the things I dared not say to her online, on the phone or even in person.  A flood of endorphins flowed through my head when I was through.  I’m at peace now about the relationship which would’ve been even more complicated and toxic offline, had it progressed that far.  Being dumped was the best thing to have happened.
 
I wish the best for my ex, despite what you might think.  I hope she realizes that before she starts life on her own as an independent spirit, she needs to face her past.  She has been through hell and needs to heal.  (Picking up a copy of Change Your Brain, Change Your Life by Dr. Daniel G. Amen would be a good start.)  After all this time, I’ve learned that I couldn’t do that for her.  Only she can.  She is remarkably strong, sweet, a hard worker, smart, and beautiful.  But she is also stubborn, fearful, reckless, manipulative, contradictory and selectively honest.  My life is better having known her and cared for her.  But maintaining any kind of contact with her is not healthy for me.  It’s best for both of us to go our own separate ways for good.
 
The day before that poem I posted an entry about that awful TV writers’ strike, my first piece of the new year.  Two months after the scribes hit the picket line in November 2007, most of the late night shows decided to come back which became the focus of my item.  David Letterman and Craig Ferguson managed to work out a deal with The Writer’s Guild Of America which allowed them to use their unionized staff.  Jay Leno, Conan O’Brien and Jimmy Kimmel were on their own.  Thankfully, everything was resolved this past February.  The audience quickly learned how important those writers really are to those shows.
 
January wasn’t all bad, thankfully.  My good friend, Rob Kerr, had been threatening for months to loan me his collection of Seinfeld box sets.  He felt I would have plenty to write about once I went through them.  He was right.  As I watched seasons one and two for the first time in their original forms (I’d only seen the syndicated versions previously), I decided to go the trivia route having learned a number of interesting things about these particular episodes.  Then, there was a follow-up piece about The Unsolved Mysteries Of Seinfeld.  After watching the season three and season four box sets, there were more trivia pieces and occasional Unsolved Mysteries items.  By the time I got to season five, however, there simply wasn’t enough interesting stuff to write about.  It didn’t help that I was reaching the apex of my depression, either.  (More on that in a moment.)  That being said, here’s one bit of trivia from The Puffy Shirt episode.  You know the scene where Jerry is waiting in his dressing room at NBC before he goes on to talk to The Today Show’s Bryant Gumbel about this charity thing he’s doing?  Pay close attention to the artwork on the walls near the door.  Notice the triangles.  That’s a reference to Elaine’s "fat starving artist" boyfriend who we meet in The Junior Mint episode.  Triangles are his signature motif.
 
Rob also loaned me the occasional movie.  None were better than 2007’s Superbad, easily the funniest movie I saw this year.  Also funny and entertaining was The Simpsons Movie, another 2007 title he let me borrow.  Despite its positive qualities, I can’t recommend V For Vendetta, however.  (The lead character is too flamboyantly obnoxious at times and the film just didn’t come together for me.)  The Lookout, on the other hand, is a solid thriller.  Who knew Joseph Gordon-Levitt was capable of delivering a great performance with such challenging material?  It’s not as great as Richard Roeper has made it out to be, but it is a good movie nonetheless.  It’s worth checking out, if you haven’t seen it.  I wish I could say the same for both Clerks and Clerks II.  While the former has its moments (it is overrated, though), the latter is a horrible misfire.  I briefly mentioned both titles in my review of 2001’s Jay And Silent Bob Strike Back which was surprisingly hilarious.  It’s definitely a Sore Jaw Comedy.  Another good friend, Dave Scacchi, loaned me his copy of Batman Begins, the brilliant 2005 film that successfully relaunched that long dormant Warner Brothers franchise.  Of all the movies I screened this year, it was the best one overall.  He got me The Dark Knight for Christmas which I’m looking forward to watching.  His frequent comments on numerous entries posted here this year (and in past years) are thoughtful, amusing and appreciated.
 
Speaking of movies, five months after my review of Just My Luck was posted, an angry reader posted an unintentionally funny comment.  Typed almost completely in capital letters and loaded with the usual array of avoidable errors, the reader took great offense at my comments about McFly, the crappy band who appear as themselves in this Lindsay Lohan disaster.  She didn’t have any opinions on my assessment of the movie itself, interestingly.  Despite being commanded to never bash them again, McFly are forgettable and weak.  I can’t remember a single song they play in the movie.  That’s a good thing.
 
In April, my mom celebrated her 60th birthday.  We had an open house at her church where dozens of family and friends came down to give her their best wishes, chow down on some grub and drop off cards and gifts for her.  Mom made out like a bandit even though she really didn’t request any presents.  She might not have had much to eat that day (she was too busy gabbing and laughing with her invited guests) but she was thrilled.  It was a great day all around.  Not too long after that, my cousin posted pictures of the event on her Facebook page.  When I saw the two shots that were taken of me for the first time, I was appalled.  I looked so thin and not happy.  At the time I weighed just 115 pounds.  (I’m six feet tall.)  A few weeks later, I entered my worst period of the year.
 
One night in early May, despite feeling incredible, I couldn’t sleep.  The next night, same thing.  For the rest of the month, I would alternate between nights of very little sleep and nights of good, restful slumber.  It was baffling.  I became depressed despite having all those endorphins flowing through my body.  My thoughts became more and more negative which buried me in more and more sorrow.  I lost weight, ate poorly and felt increasingly desperate for regular sleep.  For relief, I turned to the library, reserving a number of self-help books.  Even on the days where I was dead tired, I pushed myself to read, hoping for a solution to my sudden dilemma.  Remembering that my old college professor is married to a mental health specialist, I fired off an email to him hoping to get in touch with her.  No reply.  Feeling awful about this unwanted situation, I booked an appointment with my doctor.  It was a turning point.  She referred me to the in-house mental health counsellor.  During my second session with my shrink, she pointed me in the direction of Employment Hamilton, a government-funded service for local job seekers.  My resume was completely reworked.  I attended a couple of job search training sessions which were enlightening.  And I began looking for a part-time job.  As of this writing, I’ve applied to about two dozen places and EH has lobbied on my behalf to half a dozen more.  All the while, I started eating better, feeling better and more importantly, I figured out why I wasn’t sleeping superbly.  On that first night where I was too excited to doze off, I remember focusing a lot on my heart rate.  Because I was obsessing about it, it made things worse.  As a result, my mind couldn’t relax enough so I could sleep properly, a pattern that would continue mostly every other day for several weeks as late spring became early summer.  Once I learned how to distract myself with comforting thoughts, usually silently describing discographies of rock bands and filmographies of movie stars, over time there were fewer and fewer bad nights.  Right now, I weigh about 130 pounds, I feel great and I’m determined to find a gig while I continue to blog.  It’s not been easy but resilency is one of my biggest strengths.
 
As for my professor friend, I eventually did hear from him months after that initial email.  It turns out he was going through a hard time himself.  (I hope he’s feeling better now.)  His wife was very kind to me, offering me her phone number if I needed to call her.  Thankfully, by that point, I was in a better place and ultimately didn’t require her services which I deeply appreciated. 
 
My favourite pieces of the year were personal.  Writing about my first sexual experience (I was 29 when it happened) was a challenge not because of the intimacy involved but because this is not a restricted website.  I wanted to be descriptive without being too explicit.  I also wanted it to be as sexy, sweet and funny for the reader as it was for me and my then-girlfriend at the time.  It was a memorable period in my life and it was nice to finally have an opportunity to write about it.  I hope my ex is doing well.  Even though things ultimately didn’t work out, I have nothing but fondness for her.
 
And then, there was The Royal Canadian Air Farce.  (By the way, their final episode airs tonight on CBC at 8 p.m.)  Since the start of this website, I’ve wanted to write about my month-long internship with the show.  But I never could figure out how to assemble all these memories of the experience in an entertaining manner.  Stuck for something to write about not too long ago, I decided it was time.  (My friend, Stephanie, encouraged me to go for it which ultimately convinced me to start writing about it.) Eight installments later, most of what happened back in 1996 has finally been documented.  Here are a few things I couldn’t find room for in the series:
 
Commuting to Toronto on the GO Bus was mostly uneventful with the exception of two occasions.  One day, while we were clipping along on the QEW, a man near the front of the bus started screaming incoherently.  No one moved.  No one said anything.  When he stopped, there was a welcome silence.  Then, he started screaming again.  This pattern would continue off and on for the rest of the ride there.  Suddenly appreciative of the back of the coach, I remember feeling trapped in this tin can prison on wheels wondering if the startling noises were a sign of true terror to come.  Thankfully, he was just a harmless nut who liked to yell gibberish.  Not unlike Bill O’Reilly.
 
On a night when I was coming back to Hamilton, there was this woman who sat directly across from the driver.  Every so often, she would break into the chorus of 54-40’s She La.  Let’s just say she was no Neil Osbourne.  Her off-key rendition of the line "Don’t she look happy?" is tattooed on my brain.  How can it not be when she kept singing it over and over and over again on the ride home.
 
Finally, when I was dubbing old Air Farce shows onto VHS, I remember this really cool piece of technology that was hooked up to the TV.  You’d press a button and it would take a picture of what you were seeing on your screen.  It was really neat.  Whenever the show needed some kind of visual frame of reference, this handy device was put to work.
 
The death of Sherri Wood was one of the saddest moments of the year.  She was so young (just 28) to have died from such a terrible disease (brain cancer).  Talk about life being unfair.  She was a good writer just starting to find her voice in the entertainment pages of The Toronto Sun and she was just plain lovely.  (I enjoyed watching her on those Canoe Live broadcasts on Sun TV.  She had interesting things to say and her smile was infectious.)   Judging by the outpouring of support from her family, friends and coworkers, she was quite the lady.  Fun, quirky, sensitive, and bright, despite not knowing who Three Dog Night was.  The Sherri Woodstock concert allowed those closest to her to celebrate her life while taking in some music from bands the club reporter strongly supported.  Bill Brioux, Aaron Sawyer and Debbie Wood deserve all the credit in the world for making the event happen. 
 
For the first time, there were less than 100 postings on this website this year.  Fewer films were screened and reviewed, there were far fewer Quebecor/Sun Media commentaries compared to last year (it’s a depressing beat that The Toronto Sun Family Blog does a far better job of covering), there weren’t as many political pieces and there were longer periods of inactivity.  It is my hope that you’ll be reading far more entries on here in the new year.  My series on the Winners & Losers Of 2008 will continue in January.  Normally, all of those pieces would be posted in December but because the holiday season proved busier than I expected, the remaining installments have been postponed until the new year.  I don’t know how many more there will be but they’ll be shown here as soon as they’re ready.  Furthermore, I’m not quite sure what kinds of writing will be showcased here in the near future.  What I do know is I’m eager to try new things, maybe experiment a little bit with different ideas just to see what kinds of reactions the material will receive.  I hope to do more movie reviews and history pieces, and it would be nice to try some more poetry and short fiction.  We’ll see how the year progresses.
 
In the meantime, with a new President coming to the White House in a few weeks, let’s hope that the hope that he spoke of frequently during the campaign will be the most influential idea of 2009.
 
Happy New Year, everybody.
 
Dennis Earl
Hamilton, Ontario, Canada
Wednesday, December 31, 2008
6:43 p.m.
Published in: on December 31, 2008 at 6:43 pm  Leave a Comment  

Merry Christmas, You’re Fired

Pierre Karl Peladeau is a heartless asshole.  What other conclusion can one make after his company, Quebecor, decided to ruin the lives of 600 of its employees nine days before Christmas?  You read that right.  600.
 
Toronto Sun Family blogger John Cosway has been tireless in putting names and, where possible, faces to the victims of these brutal firings.  (As this website noted recently, it’s an indispensible site for Sun Media workers, past & present, and readers.)  The first sign of doom was noted in a TSF posting on December 6.  Cosway commented on the recent dismissal of John Kerr, the longtime anglers and hunters columnist.  Kerr, a Sun veteran of nearly 30 years, noted in his December 4th column that it was to be his last for the tabloid.  Good luck finding the whole thing online.  Not only can’t you read it on torontosun.com, you won’t be able to locate past columns.  It’s like they couldn’t wait to get rid of this guy.  (The Ottawa Sun’s outdoors columnist Jeff Morrison wrote a brief tribute to Kerr on December 11.  It’s the second item.)
 
On December 9, Cosway announced six more departures from The Toronto Sun.  If you’re a fan of Ajit Jain and Nicholas Davis, two of The Sun’s regular columnists, you have two less reasons to read the paper now.  They’re out.  Also gone are a few security personnel.  I bet the remaining employees feel much safer now, especially those leaving the building at night.
 
That brings us to December 15.  The London Free Press announced it would no longer offer a Sunday edition.  And Cosway reported on TSF that December 16 was going to be a dark day for Sun Media.  In that entry, an anonymous source predicted that as many as 10% of the overall workforce would be axed.  That’s exactly the percentage media outlets have been using in their stories.  The Canadian Press reported that besides getting rid of so many employees, readers can also look forward to less original content.  The plan is to continue with more wire copy.  How inspiring.
 
Meanwhile, Cosway has been compiling a list of names of the victims in a growing list of pieces on TSF, thanks to numerous sources within the company.  Of the 22 unfortunate souls pushed out of The Calgary Sun, sports columnist Eric Francis and longtime photographer Jack Cusino are the most high profile.  Eleven more are gone from The Winnipeg Sun while three are departing The Ottawa SunFive others have been dropped from The Edmonton Sun including photographer Robert Taylor who’s been snapping pics since the paper started publishing.
 
As for the paper that started it all, 49 employees have been shown the door in Toronto.  A number of the names are surprising.  Linda Leatherdale, the business columnist; Jane Stevenson, the music & concert critic as well as occasional film reviewer; Jason McNeil, another music critic who took over the late Sherri Wood’s beat; Derek Tse, who had just returned to the paper after a brief stint with The Toronto Star; photographer Debbie Holloway.  The rest of the list is made up of reporters, librarians, editors, advertising people, managers and proofreaders, as well as a website part-timer and a video editor.
 
On April 2, 2007, I posted a commentary entitled Why The Toronto Sun Is Going To Die.  While mostly criticizing then-Sun columnist Rachel Marsden’s poor journalism and the foolishness of those supporting her hiring (I’m looking at you, Lorrie Goldstein and Rob Granatstein), the piece also pointed out the paper’s declining circulation, the number of employees Quebecor has fired over the years and the tiresome conservative bias in the opinion section.  While looking at it again, with the exception of the Marsden stuff, it’s startling to see how timeless it is.  Lines pop out at you:
 
“…there is no future.”
 
“Frustration is at an all-time high.  Morale is at an all-time low.”
 
“…circulation is way down.”
 
It could’ve been written today.  What’s so sad about these 600 dismissals isn’t just the awfully cruel timing (just days before Christmas and Hanukkah), it’s the senselessness of them.  (The Toronto Sun remains a profitable enterprise despite its credibility problems.)  Popular columnists with decades-long tenures are thrown away like garbage.  Photographers, whose work adds emotional visuals to news reports, particularly at the local level, are considered unnecessary.  Those who are paid to protect the staff from any kind of potential violence or nonsense are relieved of their duties, leaving behind a horrible sense of vulnerability.  And what about the behind-the-scenes employees who aren’t the high-profile writers and reporters?  What did they do to deserve such shoddy, disrespectful treatment?
 
It’s one of the most depressing stories of the last couple of years, the needless shriveling of the media business.  Lost in all the panic and devastation is the fact that despite lower circulation figures, inferior journalism and less profits, the corporations who own all of these publications are still making money off of them.  They just don’t believe they’re profitable enough.  As a result, a whole bunch of people are thrown overboard, left to fend for themselves with little to no assistance from their former bosses.  Some, like my friend Bill Brioux, quickly bounce back with a new gig and renewed enthusiasm for their work after years of corporate misery.  Others switch professions altogether while the rest struggle.  It’s incredibly unfair and incredibly indecent.
 
The worst part of all of this is that terminal imbeciles like Michael Coren and Salim Mansur never have to worry about scanning the want ads.  Despite their hateful, dishonest diatribes, their jobs are always secure.  It’s almost always the respected ones like Brioux and Val Gibson who are targetted for the dump heap.
 
What will it take for surviving employees of The Sun to collectively throw their hands in the air and walk out in unison never to return?  Honest to God, how much more corporate punishment can they take?  They are overworked, fed up, disillusioned and powerless.  How powerless?  Name me one columnist, just one, who is mad enough and brave enough to unleash such scorn against Quebecor in one column that the words ignite a sense of rebellion and a sense of purpose in every employee stuck working for this dead-end company. 
 
That’s right.  You can’t.
 
There are none.
 
Dennis Earl
Hamilton, Ontario, Canada
Wednesday, December 17, 2008
8:18 p.m.
 
 
“Words HAVE been written about the cutbacks and the lost colleagues – and those words have been spiked. So tone it back a bit – people are trying, but they do work for Quebecor. Remember who the villain is here and don’t attack those left behind.”
 
John Cosway replied, “Send us the spiked words and we’ll unspike them on TSF.”  As of this writing, they’ve not yet been posted.  Keep visiting Toronto Sun Family for all the latest developments on this terrible story.  Cosway is updating multiple times a day now.
 
Meanwhile, Bill Brioux over at The TV Feeds My Family Blog offers his condolences to the recent cutback victims.
 
Dennis Earl
Hamilton, Ontario, Canada
Thursday, December 18, 2008
9:02 p.m.
 
UPDATE 2:  Cosway has posted the spiked column.  Joe Warmington authored it.  According to Cosway, it was not sent by The Night Scrawler himself but from an anonymous source.  Having read it, it’s hard to believe it was scrapped.  There’s not a single remotely offensive word in it.  (It’s not known who prevented its publication in the paper.)  Warmington pays tribute to Linda Leatherdale, the longtime business columnist, who reveals that the news of her firing came on her 55th birthday.  Without naming him directly, he also singles out some critical comments Cosway made on TSF about the utter lack of public commentary from Sun columnists on these devastating dismissals.  Disappointingly, Quebecor is spared from any scathing rants.  For a guy who claimed the media was giving President-Elect Barack Obama a free pass on all those awful (and false) Republican smears (they didn’t, by the way), it’s surprising to read this line:
 
“I don’t like what happened with the job cuts, but it’s not my place, or expertise, to comment on the business side of this newspaper, or its parent, on how they handle managing a company during a global recession.”
 
Warmington ends by promising to do a better job of keeping readers informed of the internal happenings at The Sun.  Unless he starts an independent blog, that won’t be happening.
 
Dennis Earl
Hamilton, Ontario, Canada
Friday, December 19, 2008
6:47 p.m. 
Published in: on December 17, 2008 at 8:19 pm  Comments (1)  

Winners & Losers Of 2008 (Part Three)

 
Winner:  Robert Downey Jr.
 
Before this year, you couldn’t call him a movie star.  Oh sure, he appeared in hit movies like Back To School (91 million), Bowfinger (66 million) and the recent remake of The Shaggy Dog (61 million) and, of course, he was outstanding in Natural Born Killers and Wonder Boys.  But huge success in a leading role always seemed to elude him.
 
Not anymore.  Thanks to director Jon Favreau, the 43-year-old Oscar nominee (who was the best thing in the disappointing Chaplin) is front and center in Iron Man, the highly acclaimed and widely popular comic book movie.  Were it not for Favreau’s firm insistence on casting Downey in the role of wealthy industrialist Tony Stark (Paramount Pictures, the distributor of the film, needed a lot of reassurance), one wonders if the film’s reception, with a different actor playing that part, would’ve been just as enthusiastic.  Nevertheless, Iron Man has singlehandedly put Downey on the A-list. 
 
Furthermore, this wasn’t the only time Downey played Stark in a movie this year.  He also popped up in an unbilled cameo in The Incredible Hulk which also received good reviews and made money.  If that weren’t enough to solidify his stature in 2008, there was also his performance in Tropic Thunder, the controversial comedy about a ragtag group of actors who accidentally find themselves fighting in a real guerrilla war while making a movie about Vietnam.  Downey plays an Australian method actor who undergoes a race lift to play a black man.  Despite protests over the use of the word “retard” in the movie, the late summer comedy made 110 million and earned an 84% fresh rating from critics compiled on Rotten Tomatoes.  Will the performance earn an Oscar nomination for Downey next year?  We shall see.
 
With the little-seen and mixed-reviewed Charlie Bartlett his only unsuccessful film in 2008, Robert Downey Jr. had one hell of a year.  Thank God he got sober.
 
Loser:  Film Critics
 
Roger Ebert lost his speaking voice.  At The Movies with Ebert & Roeper was cancelled.  Manny Farber died.  The Associated Press insisted on limiting movie reviews to 500 words.  The Village Voice fired Nathan Lee.  The San Diego Union-Tribune canned David Elliott.  Glenn Whipp no longer writes for The Los Angeles Daily News.  Its competitor, The Los Angeles Times, let go of Glenn Kenny and Carina Chocano.  Flint Journal critic Ed Bradley took a buyout.  Ditto Jan Stuart and Gene Seymour at Newsday.  After firing Terry Lawson last December, The Detroit Free Press announced in January that it wouldn’t replace him.  Mary Pols exited The Contra Costa Times, The Oakland Tribune and The San Jose Mercury News.  More and more movies by major studios are not being screened for critics.  And worst of all, this downward trend, already in its third year or so, will probably continue into 2009.
 
Winner:  Katy Perry
 
Irresistible in more ways than one, this 24-year-old Grammy-nominated Califorinian burst into the mainstream this year with two songs you couldn’t get out of your head.  First came I Kissed A Girl, her cheeky albeit fictional ode to bicurious smooching.  According to Wikipedia, it hit number one in 13 different countries.  Then, came the energetic retro-sounding follow-up, Hot N’ Cold.  It peaked at the top of four different international singles charts.  Both songs have sold over a million copies in North America to date.
 
It’s been a near decade-long journey to get to this point.  After releasing a Christian album in 2001 at the age of 17 under her real name, Katy Hudson, and recording two incomplete pop albums (one of which was a collaboration with the songwriting team, The Matrix) that remain locked in the vaults (with the exception of Simple, which you can hear on The Sisterhood Of The Travelling Pants soundtrack), not to mention the number of record labels she signed with who later dropped her, it wasn’t until she released Ur So Gay, a song that Madonna publicly championed, that she finally caught a break.  Despite controversy over that song and I Kissed A Girl, Perry became one of the breakout stars in a troubled industry that welcomed some rare good news.  Her second album, One Of The Boys, has been certified Gold.  Besides the hits, other songs from that record have popped up on Television and in the movies.  Appearances on programs like The Howard Stern Show and The Young & The Restless as well as a spot on the Warped Tour kept her active throughtout the year.  She ends 2008 with a December 31st appearance on NBC’s New Year’s Eve w/ Carson Daly.
 
Her old-school ’50s-era Playboy Magazine aesthetic is endlessly appealing as well as her candor.  She’s sexy and she’s talented.  More please.
 
Loser:  Mike Myers
 
The former Austin Powers took a chance this summer on a Deepak Chopra-inspired character in his latest comedy, The Love Guru.  Critics loathed it while audiences were indifferent.  The New York Post and Richard Roeper named it the worst movie of the year.  Expect a whole slew of Razzie nominations soon.  The fourth Shrek movie can’t come fast enough.
 
Dennis Earl
Hamilton, Ontario, Canada
Wednesday, December 10, 2008
9:43 p.m.
Published in: on December 10, 2008 at 9:44 pm  Leave a Comment  

Anniversary Week In The Blogosphere

TV Feeds My Family.  Fading To Black.  Toronto Sun Family. 
 
What do these three blogs have in common?  They’re all celebrating anniversaries this week.
 
On December 2, 2007, former Toronto Sun TV critic Bill Brioux posted his first entry on his new website, TV Feeds My Family.  It was a shameless plug for his first book, Truth & Rumours, which became available on New Year’s Eve that year.  (As he helpfully reminded readers this past Tuesday, it’s still in print for those looking to buy gifts for friends and family this holiday season.  By the way, I wrote about the blog and the book here.)  Some 400 follow-up entries later, the site is entering its second year with welcome plans for expansion.  After twelve months of breaking the occasional news story, and offering opinions, YouTube clips, pictures and touching eulogies, Brioux is hoping to add original “video reports” and better showcase posted links to his AM radio appearances on CHML in Hamilton, Ontario, Canada and WIMA in Lima, Ohio, not to mention his weekly Canadian Press articles, and other freelance pieces that have found their way in both The Toronto Sun and The Toronto Star.
 
In just one year, the site has received nearly 100,000 hits, a terrific start.  Thanks to the stupidity of Quebecor who fired him two years ago, Brioux has more influence now than ever before.  And with a book about late night Television in the works, 2009 is going to be another busy year for the Brampton-based author.  This website congratulates Bill on a strong year of blogging.  I’ve been a fan since his TV Guide interviews with Siskel & Ebert back in the early 1990s.
 
On December 3, 2006, a new site called Fading To Black debuted.  Billing itself as “a look at the downward spiral of the newspaper industry in the 21st century”, its first piece was a brief, critical commentary on the state of The Toronto Sun.  I found out about the site through my Statistics page.  “Another Casualty”, the founder of the site, had rather flatteringly praised my Loser Of The Year item on Sun Media and linked to it in his debut offering.  We started exchanging emails.  AC passed on some helpful info about The Sun and I would return the favour by sending links about the decline of the newspaper business, a fair number of which were used for FTB.
 
In the spring of 2007, I was offered an opportunity to contribute items directly onto the site.  From April that year to January 2008, I filed nearly 150 pieces (which you can still read on my website by perusing my FTB lists).  But the beat was depressing.  (We are talking about cutbacks, layoffs, forced retirements, lockouts, strikes and publications going bankrupt, after all.)  When it became clear that I couldn’t take it anymore, I emailed my resignation to AC who respectfully understood and wished me well.  If you thought 2007 was a rough year for the media, 2008 has been even more sobering.  AC has had no shortage of material to link to and occasionally comment on since I left the site.  Beginning in July, Fading To Black has been posting roughly 200 entries per month.  Last year, including my contributions, the site had over 600 items for readers to check out.  This year, with just a few weeks left before the arrival of 2009, there have been over 1200.  Considering the current state of the business, that number undoubtedly will continue to rise.
 
I want to congratulate Another Casualty for sticking with the site these past two years.  It couldn’t have been easy.  Like Bill Brioux, AC is one of my blogging buddies and a good friend.  Despite cold, calculating reality staring us all in the face, here’s hoping the worst of the media’s troubles have passed.
 
Finally, there’s The Toronto Sun Family Blog.  Exactly two years ago today, former reporter John Cosway, no stranger to blogging, launched his indispensible site for all things Sun Media.  It has been a forum for readers, current employees and ex-employees to vent, praise, mourn, celebrate, and report on what’s been happening with not only this troubled company (currently owned by the widely loathed Quebecor) but also the tabloid that started it all.  Cosway’s an entertaining, sensible writer and a good man.  When I wrote about being dumped by my girlfriend last year, he wrote me a nice email encouraging me to hang in there and keep blogging.  It was much appreciated.  Not only that, he’s even commented on some of my occasional Sun Media pieces, offering links and genuine praise.  When he feels the need to point out something you write, it makes you feel important and part of the blogosphere.  I’ve tried to return the favour a number of times in this space.
 
After almost 1000 entries, a good number of which were reports not broken anywhere else, the site has received over 150,000 hits, as of this writing.  It does a far better job of reporting on the inside operations of The Sun than any other outlet.  Furthermore, John Cosway has never been afraid to throw his opinions out there.  During the recent U.S. Presidential campaign, he made it abundantly clear that John McCain wasn’t the candidate for him.  If only a substantial number of Sun columnists felt the same way. 
 
Congratulations to TSF on its second anniversary on the web.
 
Dennis Earl
Hamilton, Ontario, Canada
Monday, December 8, 2008
12:56 a.m.
Published in: on December 8, 2008 at 12:57 am  Leave a Comment  

Winners & Losers Of 2008 (Part Two)

 
Winner:  Superhero Movies (Except Superhero Movie!)
 
It was a cinematic summer of bliss for fans of comic book-inspired action movies.  Between May and August, five such titles dominated multiplexes the world over.  None was more popular or respected than The Dark Knight.
 
The follow-up to the brilliant Batman Begins, it was one of the most critically acclaimed pictures of the year.  While its 2005 predecessor earned an 84% fresh rating from Rotten Tomatoes, The Dark Knight received 94%.  Three years ago, Batman Begins made almost 400 million at the global box office.  As of this writing, its sequel has accumulated nearly a billion.  (The Dark Knight returns to theatres next month in the hopes of securing some major Oscar nominations.)
 
Speaking of The Academy Awards, Heath Ledger, who died of an accidental drug overdose in January, has long been singled out as the lead contender for the Best Supporting Actor trophy, thanks to his revered performance as The Joker.  Not only that, there’s a strong possibility that The Dark Knight itself will earn a Best Picture nomination.  Considering all the accolades it has already received (with many more likely to come), it would be a genuine shock if the majority of the members of The Academy Of Motion Picture Arts & Sciences refuse to reward the film with numerous overall nominations, particularly in the major categories.
 
Two months before The Dark Knight barnstormed into movie theatres, there was Iron Man.  Like the Batman sequel, it received tremendous reviews.  With a worldwide box office take of nearly 600 million, it’s the latest Marvel Comics character to be adapted into a film franchise.
 
Five years after Hulk, Ang Lee’s underappreciated 2003 release, Ed Norton replaced Eric Bana as Bruce Banner in The Incredible Hulk.  Like the earlier film, reviews were mostly positive and its overall financial statement was respectable.  (Interestingly, Hulk made 245 million, only 17 million less than its follow-up.)
 
Ron Perlman once again put up with hours and hours of sitting in the make-up chair in order to reprise the title role in Hellboy II: The Golden Army.  Earning an 88% fresh rating from the critics assembled on Rotten Tomatoes, the movie made nearly 160 million altogether.  (By comparison, the original Hellboy received an 80% fresh rating and ultimately grossed 99 million.) 
 
Finally, there’s Hancock.  Critically pummelled, the story about a cranky superhero who irritates the city with his destructive antics and bad attitude nonetheless made a whopping 624 million in worldwide ticket sales, thanks to Will Smith’s enduring pull as a global action star.  Of the five films mentioned here, only The Dark Knight made more money.
 
The only superhero movie that failed to find a large audience and critical respect in 2008 was, you guessed it, Superhero Movie!  The springtime spoof grossed a piffling 26 millionCritics were equally underwhelmed.
 
With these titles generating close to 3 billion in global grosses alone this year (and we’re only talking about their theatrical runs, remember), the superhero genre isn’t going anywhere anytime soon.
 
Loser:  O.J. Simpson
 
In 2006, he angered millions by trying to capitalize on his infamy with a new book (the absurdly titled If I Did It) and an exclusive interview with publisher Judith Regan for Fox.  The resulting outrage inspired eventual cancellations of both.  In 2007, The Goldman family, who were initially opposed to the book project, succeeded in legally securing the rights to the original manuscript which they had published under the new name, “If I Did It:  Confessions Of The Killer”.  (Why didn’t they drop “If”?)  “In September” that same year, as noted a year ago in this space, “Simpson recruited a small group of friends to help him retrieve sports memorabilia he claims was stolen from him.  A meeting was arranged with a couple of dealers which the FBI knew about weeks in advance.  One of them, Bruce Fromong, a former Simpson pal, very cleverly, audiotaped the entire incident which was later bought by TMZ and posted on their website.  Some of the would-be robbers, we learned, were armed.  OJ is heard accusing Fromong of theft and urging his partners in crime to not let anyone escape…Soon after, Simpson and all of his equally dopey cohorts were arrested in Las Vegas.”
 
As this website also noted last year, “…it’s the second consecutive Loser Of The Year honour for OJ.  Will there be a 3-peat in ’08?  Here’s hoping.”
 
On October 3rd, I got my wish.  Thirteen years after controversially beating that infamous double murder rap, Simpson was found guilty of 12 charges he faced resulting from his botched September 13, 2007 memorabilia raid, which included armed robbery and kidnapping.  It took all of 13 hours for the jury to come to the inevitable conclusion that he’s a guilty moron.  How moronic is he?  According to this, although details weren’t specified, Simpson rejected a plea bargain agreement that would’ve substantially reduced his sentence because prosecutors would not offer a public apology for trying him in court.  I wonder if he’s having second thoughts about that decision right now.
 
Two months later, in a surprise move, Simpson requested a moment to address the court.  After not testifying in the case (his same strategy for the criminal murder trial), he made a pitiful, last-ditch effort to explain himself.  It was a hapless attempt to save face.  Despite saying “I’m sorry” several times, he foolishly claimed that he didn’t do anything wrong and never meant to hurt anybody.  Immediately afterwards, Judge Jackie Glass levelled the boom on Simpson.  He’ll be serving at least 9 years in prison (before becoming eligible for parole) or as much as 33 years in prison.  Unmoved by his crocodile tears, Judge Glass noted that Simpson was both “arrogant” and “ignorant” in his actions and that the evidence against him was “overwhelming”. 
 
In a word, wow.
 
Dennis Earl
Hamilton, Ontario, Canada
Saturday, December 6, 2008
9:50 p.m.
Published in: on December 6, 2008 at 9:51 pm  Leave a Comment  

Winners & Losers Of 2008 (Part One)

 
Winner:  Peter Eastgate
 
19 years ago, a self-described “Poker Brat” made history.  24-year-old Phil Hellmuth became the youngest Main Event winner in the history of The World Series Of Poker.  During the final table of the No Limit Texas Hold ’em World Championship in May 1989, he ousted Johnny Chan to win $755,000.  Including Hellmuth, there were 178 participants in the No Limit Hold ’em competition altogether that year.
 
Fast forward to 2008.  With 6844 players vying to divy up over 64 million in prize money, Hellmuth was eliminated by a 22-year-old Denmark native who he lovingly referred to as an “idiot from Northern Europe”.  He finished a respectable 45th earning a total of $154,400. 
 
So, how did the “idiot from Northern Europe” do?  He won the entire event.
 
Peter Eastgate became one of The November Nine, the collective nickname for the players who made it to the final table of The Main Event.  (According to Eastgate, before the historic match, Hellmuth rather graciously “wished me luck and gave me a handshake.”.)  In a gripping two-hour presentation that later aired on ESPN in America and TSN in Canada, the young Dane, who had never won a tournament before, had to fend off his last opponent, the intimidating Ivan Demidov, a 27-year-old Russian who played brilliantly aggressive poker that final night.  (Hellmuth and numerous other spectators witnessed it all live in person.)  But in the end, when Demidov pushed all-in with two pair (2s and 4s) on the last hand of the match, Eastgate could not be pushed off his 5-high straight.  Besides breaking Hellmuth’s record by 2 years, Eastgate took home an astounding $9,152,416.  Not bad for an “idiot from Northern Europe”, eh, Phil?  As for Demidov, don’t feel bad for him.  For finishing second, he earned $5,809,595.
 
Loser:  The New England Patriots
 
They were on an incredible streak.  They looked invincible.  They blew it.
 
After winning 15 straight regular season games the most dominant team in the National Football League faced The New York Giants in their final battle of the year.  In a tight contest, The Patriots prevailed by a score of 38-35.  That victory made history.  The 2007 Patriots became the second team to have an unblemished regular season.  The Miami Dolphins, who won 12 games in a row in 1972, were the first.  The Dolphins also won every game in the post-season that year, as well.  It was a record coach Bill Belichick and his roster were hoping to match.
 
After just two playoff wins against The Jacksonville Jaguars and The San Diego Chargers, The Patriots were one victory away from winning Super Bowl 42.  Their opponents?  The New York Giants.  In an event that was attended by over 70,000 fans and witnessed on Television by almost 100 million viewers, the final result was decided in the final minute of the fourth quarter.  In one of the most exciting finales in sports history, Giants quarterback Eli Manning fought off the strong possibility of being sacked on third down in the final minute to spiral the pigskin to a leaping David Tyree who made a memorable reception.  He caught the ball in his right hand and pressed it firmly against his helmet, landing on the 24-yard line.  The score at that point:  Patriots 14, Giants 10.
 
With less than 40 seconds remaining on the clock, Plaxico Burress (yes, the jackass who accidentally shot himself in a club this month) caught the winning touchdown pass.  When time ran out, The Giants had 17 points and The Patriots had 14.  Peyton Manning’s little brother had done it.  After a few seasons of frustrating unevenness, and with his big brother in attendance applauding him all the way, Eli had led The Giants to their first Super Bowl victory since 1991 when they beat The Buffalo Bills in another close match-up.  Tom Brady and company, 12-point favourites going into the big game, were stunned.
 
If that weren’t impressive enough The Giants have thus far had an incredible 2008 season, as well.  Already eligible for another post-season run, as of this writing, they are 11 and 1.  The Patriots?  Try 7 and 5.  Not so dominant this year, are ya, fellas?  I wonder why.
 
Dennis Earl
Hamilton, Ontario, Canada
Saturday, December 6, 2008 
1:33 a.m.
Published in: on December 6, 2008 at 1:34 am  Leave a Comment  

Lobbying For Air Farce Complete Season DVDs

On November 19, 1997, HBO released Todd McFarlane’s Spawn on DVD.  Based on his comic book (which also inspired a live-action feature film that summer), it’s an adult animated series that debuted exclusively on the cable channel six months earlier.  All six episodes from its first season were featured uncut on this DVD.
 
Up to that point, only selected episodes of certain programs were available for purchase in the new digital format, following a formula long established by Beta and VHS.  The idea of offering a complete season of shows in one release was unique.  In fact, by the end of 1999, Spawn was the only TV program whose complete run (eighteen episodes in three seasons) was available to own on DVD.
 
Then came The X-Files.  On May 9, 2000, the complete first season of the Fox series was issued.  Besides offering all 24 episodes that aired during its first year, there were extensive bonus features including, according to TVshowsonDVD.com, 47 promo spots.  The seven-disc box set laid out the blueprint for all other shows to follow. 
 
Since then, numerous Television programs, whether they were hits with long runs or horrendous flops that barely lasted a year, have received similiar treatment.  Even Canadian shows like This Hour Has 22 Minutes and Corner Gas have been rolling out old shows one season at a time.  One such program that hasn’t is The Royal Canadian Air Farce.
 
Other sketch comedy staples like SCTV and Saturday Night Live have dived right into the complete season DVD phenomenon.  Why not Air Farce?
 
When the show airs its final episode on New Year’s Eve, it’ll mark the end of its sixteenth season.  Before The Farce began its second (and most successful) attempt at a regular series in the fall of 1993, there was a one-hour special that was broadcasted on December 31, 1992, so the show has come full circle.
 
Once production ends, plans should be drawn up to put together proper DVD releases which offer every episode of every season in the right order and loaded with bonus material.  That ’92 New Year’s Eve special would be a great addition to the season one set.  John Morgan, Don Ferguson, Roger Abbott and Luba Goy were interviewed by Pamela Wallin on her prime time CBC Newsworld talk show in 1996.  Why not include that on the season three release?  Hell, I’ll personally throw in the Andy Awards promo the troupe graciously recorded during my four-week internship that has only aired once.  I’ve got the original raw footage as well as the clip from the actual broadcast.  It would also be neat to hear commentary from Director Perry Rosemond, deadpan Stage Manager Pat McDonald, and all the other talented folks who looked after the technical and visual sides of production, about the origins and processes of many of the funny sketches that have aired over the years.  Any bits that got excised and ultimately never aired would be cool to see as well, if they exist.
 
Surely, there’s a ton of archival footage worth digging up for these releases like the troupe’s Just For Laughs appearances.  I would personally love to see old photos of The Farce put together in a video montage complete with music, like they do on those Seinfeld DVDs.  Surely it’s possible to get interviews with all the many luminaries who’ve appeared on the show over the years.  It would be particularly interesting to hear from Jann Arden who, according to Wikipedia, had a terrible experience with the show.  Considering the decency and total professionalism of everybody associated with Air Farce, it’s hard to accept an outsider coming in and not having a good time doing comedy with them.
 
It goes without saying that a tribute to John Morgan would be nice to see.  It would be cool to learn more about the backgrounds of each individual performer, particularly Alan Park and Jessica Holmes, through a series of in-depth profiles.  (I’d like to see one on Perry Rosemond, as well.)  Maybe they would be humble enough to offer rare footage of themselves exclusive to these DVD releases.  Most importantly, a thorough history of The Farce from its Jest Society beginnings to its recent CBC triumphs would be more than appreciated.
 
Even though the show will probably live on in reruns for some time to come, putting together comprehensive box sets one season at a time would be preferable.  (Yes, there have already been Air Farce compendium DVDs over the years but they only offer selected bits.)  Think about it.  You could watch any sketch you want to at any time without commercial interruption.  (Chapter stops would make it easier to go directly to a particular bit and prevent the annoyance of fast forwarding.)  You could check out all kinds of material not seen or heard anywhere else.  And you would learn so much more about the process of making funny sketches on Television thereby deepening your understanding and respect for the people who made this series a reality.
 
The Royal Canadian Air Farce is a very funny show with a long history to share.  The best way to preserve that history is on DVD, one complete season at a time.
 
Dennis Earl
Hamilton, Ontario, Canada
Thursday, December 4, 2008
6:19 p.m.
Published in: on December 4, 2008 at 6:21 pm  Comments (1)